Painted circa 1846-48.
Essay No. 1:
Mather and Miller stated that wealthy New York Hicksite Quaker merchant Amos Willets commissioned this painting. He was related to the Hicks family through marriage. Correspondence with Mabel Willets Abendroth, Harrison, N.Y., in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center archives also indicated that Amos Willets was the first owner. Documentation for "commissioning" the work from the artist is unknown, however. It is more likely that the painting was a gift for which Willets may voluntarily have sent money to Hicks.
This Kingdom was subsequently given to Amos's nephew Robert R. Willets, who married Edward Hicks's granddaughter Tacie Parry, daughter of Isaac C. and Sarah Hicks Parry. Robert and Tacie's daughter Mabel Willets Abendroth inherited the painting and gave it to her son William P. Abendroth Jr., Berwyn, Pennsylvania. Later sold to Kennedy Galleries, New York, N.Y., it was acquired by a private collector.
Mabel Willets Abendroth described the painting: "One of the Peaceable Kingdoms is quite large and to my way of thinking, it is the most beautiful thing of Grandfather's I have ever seen.... It was given to my father and mother about the time they were married in 1869, by the children of great Uncle Amos Willets (maybe Great-Uncle promised it to my mother before he died)."
This painting is among Hicks's finest late Kingdom pictures. The artist arranged the animals, dispersed and spread over more than half of the canvas, in new and interesting ways. Many stand alone or are positioned apart from one another, an approach that is distinctively different from Hicks's Kingdoms of the 1830s and early 1840s. The artist used squarer canvases to provide the additional space he needed for the new organization. Edward did not often repeat this format in the late Kingdoms. His separation of the animals may have symbolized the further divided Orthodox and Hicksite groups which Hicks believed would be difficult to reunite into one cohesive Society of Friends
Excerpted from American Radiance, The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum, by Carolyn J. Weekley, pp. 412-413.
Essay No. 2:
Edward Hicks (1780-1849) is the most celebrated and beloved folk art painter in America, primarily for his many versions of The Peaceable Kingdoms, unquestionably the most appealing subject in American folk art. Born in Attleborough, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on April 4, 1780, the son of Isaac and Catherine Hicks, he was originally trained as a carriage and fancy sign painter, and turned to easel painting almost as an avocation at about the same time he adopted the staunch Quaker belief of his foster parents (David and Elizabeth Twining). Hicks regarded himself as a primitive Quaker, and thus, to be consistent, a craftsman rather than an artist. He wrote in his memoirs, "There is something of importance in the example of the primitive Christians and primitive Quakers, to mind their callings or business avoiding idleness and fanaticism. Had I my time to do over again I think I would take the advice given me by my old friend Abraham Chapman, a shrewd, sensible lawyer that lived with me about the time I was quitting painting (to begin farming). 'Edward, thee has now the source of independence within thyself, in thy particular talent for painting. Keep to it, within the bounds of innocence and usefulness, and thee can always be comfortable.'" It seems ironic that the man who called himself in 1846 "but a poor old worthless insignificant painter" was destined in the twentieth century to be recognized as the most celebrated of America's painters.
During the early 1830s, Hicks developed a format for his Peaceable Kingdoms, based on the prophecy of Isaiah 11:6-9: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den." Never was painting more religious or more naïve, or more truly in the spirit of those Quakers who call themselves "a primitive people." The concept and design of these Peaceable Kingdoms are thoroughly Hicks', and each of his versions differ one from the other—each used elements that symbolized salvation through the "Light Within," and each was based on Isaiah's foretelling of the peaceful existence between wild and domesticated beasts led to a harmonious state by a little child. In the background of many of Hicks' Peaceable Kingdoms is a small vignette of William Penn's treaty with the Indians as another theme, adopted by the artist from a print after Benjamin West's version. The event was significant for Pennsylvania Quakers—particularly those living in Bucks County, Hicks' home area, which Penn had named for his native Buckinghamshire, England.
When Harriet Martineau traveled in antebellum America, she reported that Americans looked to the "possession of land as the cure for all social evils." What allowed them to be so hopeful was an implicit belief (or a need to believe) that social conflict was something ephemeral and something easily corrected by means of reform.
As in so many other crusades for reform in the early United States, the Society of Friends was at the root of the movement articulating and promoting the doctrine of pacifism. The Quakers saw little glory or value in war despite their involvement in the American Revolution. Their campaigns for reform took their inspiration not only from their rhapsodic vision of Isaiah's "peaceable kingdom" but also from the ancient dream of the prophet Micah—that men would beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Jacksonian Americans could rejoice in the primacy of harmony, for harmony was indeed a given in the narrative of progress, a narrative in the paintings of Hicks and in the writings of Cooper that admitted no warring polarity, only orderly succession.
In due time, Hicks paraphrased Isaiah's prophecy in verse form of rhyming couplets to express his allegorical vision of progress and harmony, which he had printed on cards for recipients of his Peaceable Kingdoms:
Edward Hicks died on August 23, 1849, a good Quaker. Friends accepted as a fact that they were a people among peoples—an organized segment of the population which kept morality and good order in its own ranks, expected no special favor from the government, and thought other elements should do likewise. By benevolent activities they found a way to win a place for themselves in American society without either sacrificing their strict fidelity to their distinctive code of behavior or compromising with worldliness. By declining to seek converts through their philanthropic efforts, they made it possible to avoid any temptation to lower their standards in order to draw in more outsiders. Quaker asceticism and desires to reform human institutions were reconciled in Jacksonian America under the aegis of a government that expected active participation by the citizens in the political process. Men like the Quaker painter-preacher Edward Hicks purified their own conduct, maintaining the solidarity of their church, and by offering allegories of "Peaceable Kingdoms" here on earth of a "harmony of interests," which they believed it their special duty to do, showed the way in virtue and public policy to fellow Americans.
We are grateful to Wendell D. Garrett, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, Editor-at-Large, The Magazine Antiques for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
Essay Number 3:
Mabel Willets Abendroth, who inherited the picture in the last century, wrote that ". . . the Peaceable kingdoms is quite large and to my way of thinking, it is the most beautiful thing of Grandfather's I have ever seen . . . . It was given to my father and mother about the time they were married in l869 . . . " (Archives, The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation). The original owner of the picture, the New York Hickite Quaker merchant Amos Willets, would likely have agreed as well as understood the iconography and underlying meanings of the picture. Those who knew the artist recognized these paintings as outward expressions of the Edward's inward feelings and personal feelings. Most would have been familiar with the lessons to be learned from Isaiah's prophecy since they were of utmost importance to Quaker quietism and the denial of the willful self.
The Kingdom pictures were reminders of a critical Quaker requirement: the need to purge undesirable creaturely concerns from one's life so that it would be filled and guided by the divine grace of God. Such core issues became increasingly important to Edward in his role as a minister at a time when the schism between so-called Hickite and Orthodox Quakers raged and resulted in a division that lasted well beyond the artist's lifetime. It was the schism and ultimately the continuing separation that fueled Edward's creation and development of these paintings until the very eve of his death in l849.
Although it is difficult to precisely date Edward Hick's late Kingdom pictures, the style and composition of this example place it with a handful of others created near the end of the artist's life. It was apparent to him and to other Quakers that reconciliation was years away. In the l840s, Edward began to paint Kingdom pictures that reflected his disappointment and ultimately his resignation from the division of Friends.
Most of the animals in the earlier Kingdoms are seen here, although they are intentionally changed in design and placement. Edward began to use squarer formats by adding height to the compositions. In earlier versions the animals were closely grouped, but after about l845 the animals were dispersed and are loosely placed throughout the pictures. Such an arrangement is seen here as well as the obvious changes in the carnivorous animals' expressions. The languid demeanor of the lion and leopard are the most notable and also reflect a more resigned, less contentious co-existence among the beasts. The sleek, sensuous leopard still enchants us, though he is quieter in mood than before. There are more sheep, lambs, and children in these pictures, reflecting Edward continuing effort to illustrate Isaiah's prophecy through additional details. Only a very few of the late pictures, like this one, show the children actually "playing" or handling the serpents.
On rare occasions the artist introduced new elements, usually at the time he developed a new composition. The grey bear at the upper right, and the figure he named "Liberty, Meekness, and Innocence" near the top at center, were used in a few of the late compositions.
The colors in this Kingdom are particularly rich with four different and overlapping ground layers of tans and greens that recede into the background The animals, partly because they are loosely placed, often have full bodies that are smoothly and meticulously painted with the neat detailing associated with Hicks best pictures. The blasted and cleft tree at center, the Penn's Treaty scene taking place at upper left, and the distant river view with hills beyond are features familiar to Edward's earlier versions. A second cleft tree is seen at upper right, a significant addition since it probably symbolizes the further scattering and divisions among the two primary Quaker groups into other parties such as the Foxites and the Gurneyites.
We are grateful to Carolyn J. Weekley, the Juli Grainger Director of Museums for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.
Oil on canvas
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Masters of Popular Painting,1938
Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Art Museum, In Celebration: Works of Art from the Collections of Princeton Alumni and Friends of Art Museum, 1997
New York, American Folk Art Museum, Millennial Dreams: Vision and Prophecy in American Folk Art, 1999-2000
26 by 29 1/2 in. (66 by 75 cm)
Robert Bishop, Folk Painters of America, New York, 1979, illustrated pl. 32
Robert Bishop and Jacqueline Marx Atkins, Folk Art in American Life, New York, 1995, p. 40
Robert Bishop and Patricia Coblentz, American Decorative Arts: 360 Years of Creative Design, New York, 1982, p. 216.
Kurt C. Dewhurst, Betty MacDowell, and Marsha MacDowell, Religious Folk Art in America: Reflections of Faith, New York, 1983, illustrated in color on the cover
Eleanor Price Mather and Dorothy Canning Miller, Edward Hicks: His Peaceable Kingdoms Other Paintings, Newark, New Jersey, 1983, p. 147
Lee Kogan and Barbara Cate, Treasures of Folk Art: Museum of American Folk Art, New York, 1994, p. 101
Carolyn J. Weekley, The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks, New York, 1999, pp. 147, 148, illustration in color of a detail
Gerard C. Wertkin, "Millennial Dreams: Vision and Prophecy in American Folk Art," Folk Art 24, no. 3, Fall, 1999, p. 45
Stacy C. Hollander, American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum, New York, 2001, pp. 412-413, illustrated in color pl. 54
Amos Willets (acquired directly from the artist)
Robert R. Willets (his nephew; grandson-in-law of the artist)
Mabel Willets Abendroth, Harrison, New York
William P. Abendroth, Jr., Berwyn, Pennsylvania
Kennedy Galleries, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1976